FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

CAFTA, Free Trade vs. Democracy

In early January, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick met with foreign ministers from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua to launch official negotiations for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), a treaty that would expand NAFTA-style trade barrier reductions to Central America. The first bargaining session for CAFTA convened in San Jos?, Costa Rica on January 27.

Zoellick and other White House representatives would like us to believe that their efforts to open markets throughout the hemisphere will serve to “strengthen democracy” abroad. Riding the wave of patriotic sentiment, they see themselves as “Trading in Freedom.”

There’s only one problem with the rhetoric: CAFTA provides a perfect example of a “free trade” agreement that actually undermines democratic freedoms.

The White House asserts that CAFTA will commit Central American nations to “even greater openness and transparency.” Ironically, the negotiations for the trade deal themselves are anything but transparent. Despite demands from watchdog groups, draft texts of the CAFTA proposal have not been made available to the public in Central America or in the United States, stifling open discussion and debate. The undemocratic nature of the CAFTA negotiations obscures more substantive problems. “Free trade” advocates are keeping their negotiating positions secret because they have plenty to hide. If implemented, CAFTA will erode key democratic norms such as workers’ rights and the ability to legislate environmental protections.

Bush Administration officials claim that market reforms would produce “improved working conditions.” The labor records of the maquiladora factories in existing free-trade zones in Central America, however, suggest otherwise. In the Guatemalan context, Human Right Watch issued a report earlier this year saying that “efforts to form labor unions in the maquila sector have met with devastating resistance from the industry as a whole and, at best, government negligence. Unionization efforts have been countered with mass dismissals, intimidation, indiscriminate retaliation against all workers, and plant closings.”

Since CAFTA threatens to weaken the labor standards mandated by the Clinton-era Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) and the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act, it will only encourage efforts by factory owners to thwart the freedom of association and the right to form a union. That’s why CAFTA is opposed not only by the AFL-CIO, but also by a wide range of Central American labor organizations. Democratically instituted environmental safeguards are also endangered by CAFTA. Previous trade provisions, such as NAFTA’s Chapter 11, grant corporations the right to sue governments for environmental protections — and any laws — that cut into their future profits, on the grounds these constitute unfair trade barriers. In 1998 the Ethyl Corporation sued Canada for its public health ban on MMT, a fuel additive. Canada chose to overturn its environmental provision and pay a $13 million to Ethyl, rather than risk $251 million in damages. The State of California came under similar attack for its ban on MTBE, a documented water pollutant that poses risks to human and animal health.

Will CAFTA expand the reach of NAFTA’s Chapter 11 provision? Probably. But since the negotiations are secret, we won’t know for sure until the last minute.

Worse yet, when the agreement comes up for a vote, our legislators will not be able to use amendments to strike out such offensive planks. Last July President Bush pushed “Fast Track” trade negotiating authority through the House over the objection of 212 Representatives. The bill requires Congress to accept or reject trade policies wholesale. As Congressman Sandy Levin (D-Michigan) explains, this leaves “a minimal, meaningless and last minute role for Congress at a time when trade policy is increasingly intertwined with all areas of domestic policy.”

In another calculated rush, trade ministers want to finish CAFTA negotiations by December 2003, before new elections in Central America that might produce leaders opposed to the pact. One key concern is El Salvador, where pre-CAFTA moves to privatize public services — like health care and basic utilities — have widely discredited the current right-wing regime. Should Salvadorans elect an opposition President in March 2004, the White House would like to have the new government locked in to the same trade policies endorsed by the ousted leaders.

So much for freedom. The truth is, CAFTA won’t promote democracy. And democracy may be the best hope left for sinking CAFTA.

Mark Engler, a commentator for Foreign Policy in Focus, has previously worked with the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress in San Jos?, Costa Rica. He can be reached at engler@eudoramail.com.

 

More articles by:

MARK ENGLER is author of How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books, April 2008). He can be reached via the web site http://www.DemocracyUprising.com

December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail